UPenn’s Wharton School vs. Columbia Business School
Post date: Jul 19, 2012 3:12:19 AM
If you get an invite to attend either of these two business schools, you are an exceptional person with huge upside potential. Otherwise, Wharton and Columbia would have dinged you. There are probably more similarities between these two schools than differences. “We are a fact-based and data-driven school,” says J.J. Cutler, deputy dean of Wharton’s MBA Admissions and Career Services. “We do not have a charisma-style approach. We let the data drive us and help lead us to the solutions.” The same could just as easily be said of Columbia.
Yet, there are important differences. The first is obvious: Columbia is all about New York and the awesome resources it routinely leverages from the capital of the world. Unlike Wharton, it also enters two MBA classes a year, in January for students who don’t need or want a summer internship, and in September for a more conventional full-time MBA schedule. The diversity of exceptional students in both schools is mind-boggling: In Columbia’s Class of 2011, for example, are students who have interned at the White House, managed hedge funds, published books, produced TV shows and launched companies in the U.S. and abroad. The class includes an army ranger and recipient of the Bronze Star, the founder of the largest organic vegetable processing factory in northwestern China, a finalist on American Idol (we’re not kidding), and a three-time Grammy award-winning music producer.
Wharton's Huntsman Hall in Philadelphia
Top Ten Reasons to Go to Wharton?
You want to work for a financial services firm and want the single best degree to do so.
You want lots of choices in courses, joint programs with other schools.
You’re not yet sure what you want to concentrate in and want to insure you have a deep dive in virtually any subject.
You’re up for an intense, competitive culture.
You thrive in a larger environment and enjoy being a smaller fish in a bigger pond.
You want to work, live and play in world-class business school facilities.
You expect to be among the highest paid MBAs in the world.
You prefer smaller, manageable cities to larger, more congested ones.
You think Rocky is one of the best pictures ever made.
Top Ten Reasons to Go to Columbia?
It’s one of the six best MBA programs in the world.
It’s all about location, location, location. That is, New York location.
You want a deep and thorough education, not merely in finance but a subset of it, such as investment management, private equity, value investing or something even more obscure.
You expect to work in New York and want to be part of an extremely strong alumni base in the city where every major company is populated with at least some key players who got their MBA ticket punched where you did.
You are highly competitive and want to go through a tough, competitive MBA program.
You thrive in a larger environment and enjoy being a smaller fish in a bigger pond.
You want to be part of an extremely diverse class, with lots of international exposure.
You don’t mind traffic, people congestion, overpriced housing, and putting up with the hassles of big city life.
You love big city life, or at least badly want to try it out, and you tend to dislike small towns in isolated places.
You root for the New York Yankees, love museums and Carnegie Hall.
The more detailed differences between Columbia and Wharton?
Geography: Columbia Business School is the quintessential big city university. Its location in New York, the business, financial and media center of the world, brings the school massive benefits: a living laboratory of markets and businesses, an endless supply of well-qualified adjunct teachers, and more visiting executives who gravitate to its classrooms to speak and lecture. The school estimates that it gets more than 500 guest speakers a year on campus. That is a networking opportunity that is unique. “We have a big advantage being in New York City because there are so many opportunities for students to visit local alumni in their work offices and for alums to come back and coach students on campus,” says Ethan Hanabury, a senior associate dean at Columbia. He estimates that as many as 3,000 alums come back to the school each year for conferences, classes, recruiting sessions, and mentoring programs. There are few cities in the world that are as alive, exciting and dynamic than New York. The drawback to Columbia’s location is also obvious: As one student put it, “It’s easier to get a little lost in New York, to feel a little less rooted if you’re from outside the area, and to be a little more anonymous.” The social dynamic is completely different as well. Because Columbia MBAs rarely live together but are spread throughout the city, they’re far more likely to be more competitive with each other. It’s easier to stab someone in the back when you rarely see them outside of class. Wharton’s location in the heart of Philadelphia makes it a train ride away from either New York or Washington. Despite some concerns over the neighborhood surrounding the school, Wharton is in an extremely safe and comfortable place. With the fifth largest population in the U.S., Philadelphia is a great, compact city, with world-class restaurants and cultural attractions. Most students who attend Wharton have never been to Philadelphia and are usually pleasantly surprised by the city’s livability. Says Wharton’s Cutler: It’s fair to say that you can’t compare Philly to New York. They are different places. It’s not better or worse, they are different.”
Size: Both Wharton and Columbia boast two of the largest full-time MBA programs in the world. Total full-time MBA enrollment at Wharton is 1,674, versus Columbia’s 1,293. In the September-entry class alone, Columbia brings in about 554 full-time MBAs as well as another 121 Executive MBAs. Wharton enrolls just over 860 full-time MBAs each fall semester. They’re divided into four groups of about 210 students that are known as clusters. Then, each cluster is chopped into three cohorts of about 70 students. Every cohort moves through the core curriulum as a unit, sharing the first year of their academic experience. You can waive out of the core courses if you have prior experience in the subject and move onto more advanced coursework. Only three courses can’t be waived at Wharton: business ethics, leadership, and communications. It’s a similar story at Columbia which divides up its new students into clusters of 60 to 65 people who take most of the first-year core classes together.
Culture: Wharton and Columbia are big-city schools with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with that. Typically, schools in large urban settings tend to have more intense and competitive cultures. It’s easier to escape school in a big city than it is in a college town or rural setting. While cut-throat competition may be exaggerated at Columbia (it has been said that MBA students once hid books from classmates), it’s true that the Columbia environment is more competitive given its location in hyper-competitive New York. A year ago, a graduating Columbia student penned an essay for the campus newspaper in which he he bemoaned the lack of a supportive and encouraging culture. “There is no community at Columbia,” he wrote. “There is no sense of solidarity. There is no creative energy. Too many people out for themselves.” There’s more than some hyperbole in those comments, but they are directionally correct. A greater sense of community exists at Wharton if only because the campus is compact and contained, and you’re more likely to know a larger number of your classmates. Wharton has one significant disadvantage for MBA students: it has one of the largest undergraduate business and executive educations programs in the world, with 2,621 undergrads and 9,000 executives attending seminars and longer programs. Columbia has no undergraduate business population and few executive education courses to spread its faculty over.
Facilities: Unfortunately, Columbia Business School has the absolute worst facility of any prestige b-school. That’s no fault of the school’s leadership. For years, several deans have been trying to get a new world-class building to replace the 1960s-built Uris Hall, but politics and highly limited space on campus have made this a long, and difficult quest. Meantime, all of Columbia’s peers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into new world-class complexes so the contrast between what Columbia has and everyone else is vast. Uris is an unattractive concrete slab of a building, over-crowded and sub-standard in every way. No wonder the school’s elaborate website contains only a single photograph of the outside of Uris among numerous slideshows of the overall university campus and New York. It has been renovated, but has limited places to study and few classrooms. There is no business school residence hall. Instead, some b-school grads get to fight it out for the limited graduate housing with Columbia’s other schools. Half of the MBA classes, including the core, gets taught two blocks away from Uris at Warren Hall, a building on 115th St. shared with the university’s law school. Though the school has two other buildings, they are used for the Executive MBA and executive education programs. So all the action in the MBA program occurs in Uris and Warren on Columbia’s Morningside campus which runs from West 114th St. to West 120th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave. This will change, perhaps by 2012, when the b-school is supposed to move to the university’s expanded campus, a 17-acre tract of land in West Harlem from Broadway to 12th St. between 125th and 133rd St. This new university campus won’t be fully built until 2030.
Wharton, on the other hand, has some of the best business school facilities in the world. The B-school campus is composed of seven buildings on and off Locust Walk, the brick-lined pedestrian thoroughfare at the heart of Penn. The buildings are closely clustered around the area of campus known as the “Wharton Quad,” a great meeting place and hub for students. The newest building, Jon M. Huntsman Hall, is home to both the undergraduate and graduate divisions of Wharton. It represents the single largest addition of academic space on the Penn campus in more than half a century. It’s a gorgeous world-class building of 320,000 square feet, designed around Wharton’s cohort learning model. This building alone boasts 48 clasrooms, four computer labs, 57 group study rooms, four floors of faculty offices, a 300-seat auditorium, student cafes and study lounges. If you’re keeping count, it’s essentially one building at Columbia versus seven at Wharton.
Teaching Methods: Both schools offer up a variety of teaching methods, from case study to lectures and team projects. There’s really no major difference in the classroom approaches at Wharton and Columbia, though the more flexible classroom space at Wharton offers the opportunity for more experiential opportunities. Wharton says that case studies make up about 35% of the work, team projects account for 25%, and lectures take up 20%. Columbia says that case studies and lectures each account for 40% of the classwork, while team projects make up 15%.
Program Focus: The most common misperception about Wharton and Columbia is that they are finance schools. While it’s true that Wharton and Columbia boast superb finance faculties and course options, these schools are more like department stores with widely diverse offerings than they are finance boutiques. Wharton, for example, claims to have more elective courses than any other business school in the world, nearly 200 across 11 academic departments (not including courses you can take elsewhere at the University of Pennsylvania). Columbia Business School, meantime, offers more than 130 electives, an amazing array of choices yet still about a third less than Wharton. Interestingly, Wharton opens a door to allow its students to work with faculty and administration to develop new courses, and they often partner with faculty and businesses on individual advanced study projects. Taking five courses in a field qualifies you for one of 18 listed majors at Wharton, including such narrow fields as health care management and environmental and risk management.
Columbia is no slouch in offering up specialty areas of study. There’s also a private equity focus and a “value investing” focus, the latter with a curriculum of eight courses alone, from “Legends in Value Investing” to “Distressed Value Investing.” A “media” focus boasts 26 courses at Columbia’s schools of business, film, law, journalism, international and public affairs, and arts and sciences. You can even do deep dives on such specialized areas as “social enterprise” or “healthare and pharmaceutical management.” With a full-time faculty of 150 plus 50 more adjunct professors, Colubmia offers extraordinary flexibility. So does Wharton with its staff of more than 250 faculty members.
In most specific areas of study, such as international business, finance, marketing, management, and entrepreneurship, Wharton is more highly regarded than Columbia, according to U.S. News & World Report’s latest survey of B-school deans and MBA directors. No school tops Wharton in finance (Columbia is fourth behind Wharton, Chicago, and NYU). Yet, Columbia’s finance and economics division is the school’s largest, accounting for nearly half of the courses taught at the B-school.
In marketing, Wharton is second, behind only Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management (Columbia is tied for sixth with Chicago). In management, Wharton is ranked fourth, just beneath Harvard, Stanford and Northwestern (Columbia is tenth). In entrepreneurship, the gap is even wider, with Wharton ranked fifth and Columbia tied for 14th with Chicago. In international business, Wharton is second, while Columbia is tied for sixth with Duke and NYU. The only significant area of study where Columbia has an edge over Wharton is non-profit management, where it is ranked ninth out of 11 top schools in this area by U.S. News & World Report. Wharton doesn’t rate at all in this field.
On-Campus Recruiting: If you want to work on Wall Street, an investment management shop, or a global financial services firm, getting your MBA punched at either Columbia or Wharton is as close to a guaranteed ticket to entry as you could ever get. Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan-Chase, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse overflow with Wharton and Columbia grads. All the major MBA employers recruit at both schools so there are no shortages of opportunity on the job front. We give Wharton a slight edge over Columbia in recruiting, given the school’s highly consistent superior showing in BusinessWeek’s recruiter polls. In the 2008-2009 year, 243 companies interviewed graduating MBAs on campus, 1,623 employers posted jobs on the school’s MBA Job Board, and 199 bought Wharton’s online resume books. Obviously, the Class of 2009 had a tough time in a difficult environment. At Columbia, 62 sponsored-students chose to return to their pre-MBA employers. Many others accepted jobs at small and mid-sized firms.
Alumni Network: Wharton claims the largest alumni network of any business school in the world: 85,000 alums in 140 countries. That figure includes Wharton’s sizable undergraduate output. It’s a sure bet that wherever you are in the world, however, you’ll find Wharton MBAs or even a Wharton Alumni Club to use as a networking base. Columbia alumni are fully entrenched in the financial, media, and business world of New York which essentially means that alums are a powerful and influential bunch. Of the 38,000 living alums, a figure that includes EMBAs, you can find a Columbia connection anywhere in the world. How tight are these networks? We give the edge to Wharton which has been able to generate a greater sense of community than Columbia over the years.
Hands down, Wharton comes out on top over Columbia on every major ranking out there. The school’s rankings almost always put it among the top five business schools in the world. Columbia, on the other hand, is usually in the bottom part of any top ten list. The Financial Times has Wharton as the number two school, Penn’s highest current ranking. Perhaps more importantly, however, no school has had better success in the rankings than Wharton in the past ten or so years. The best rank accorded Columbia is sixth place, according to our new survey along with Forbes and The Financial Times. The lowest rank given Columbia is 20th by The Economist which is yet another reason why we consider that magazine’s ranking to be the least credible of them all. The P&Q rank–which factors into consideration all the major rankings weighted by their individual authority–places Wharton at fourth and Columbia at sixth. These are the up-to-date rankings from each ranking organization.
Historical Rankings by BusinessWeek:
Wharton is the big winner here, having come in first in the BusinessWeek rankings on four separate occasions, from 1994 until 2002, when it fell to fifth, its lowest ranking by BW ever. Columbia has never been ranked higher than sixth by BusinessWeek, which largely measures customer satisfaction by surveying recent graduates and corporate recruiters. The reason: Wharton has simply been far more attentive to both students and MBA hirers than Columbia Business School over the years. Wharton’s vastly superior facilities certainly play some role in the consistently high satisfaction levels it scores.
Historical Rankings by The Financial Times: Unlike BusinessWeek’s rankings, The Financial Times includes business schools from all over the world. So the FT is ranking both Wharton and Columbia against such places as London Business School, which ranked number one in this survey in 2010 and 2009, and INSEAD, which ranked fifth these last two years. Even so, no school has fared better than Wharton in The Financial Times’ surveys. Wharton has been named the top business school in the world in nine out of the past ten years! The London Business School just barely edged out Wharton in the FT’s last survey. Columbia has done quite well in the FT rankings over the years as well, even though it has been far less consistent, ranging from its current rank of sixth to second in 2007. The Financial Times has ranked Columbia third on five occasions, in four consecutive years from 2002 to 2005, and in 2008.
Both Wharton and Columbia attract exceptional talent to their schools and are highly selective as a result. Wharton says no to more than eight out of every ten applicants, and has an acceptance rate of just 16.9%. Columbia is even more selective, mainly because its location in New York City is highly desirable. Columbia sends offer letters to just 14.9% of its applicants, making it the sixth most selective business school in the world. That is a world of difference from where Columbia was in the early 1990s when it was accepting 47% of its applicants in 1992. Wharton’s average GMAT score for the Class of 2011 is slightly higher than Columbia’s by five points, 718 to 713. * Estimate.
Columbia is one of the largest two-year, full-time MBA programs in the world, with a total enrollment of nearly 1,300 students–not including more than 200 additional Executive MBAs. Still, it’s smaller than Wharton’s1,674 full-time MBA students. In fact, only one other top school enrolls more full-time MBAs than Wharton: that’s Harvard Business School, with 1,837 students. Even accounting for Columbia’s location in New York, it’s surprising to see that Wharton enrolls a significantly higher percentage of international students (37% vs. Columbia’s 32%), more female students (40% versus Columbia’s 34%), and a far greater representation of minority students (29% vs. Columbia’s 18%). The numbers for women, international and minority students are for the Class of 2011.
Poets & Quants:
Surprisingly, the largest single chunk of MBAs at Wharton have undergraduate backgrounds in the humanities and social sciences. At first blush, you’d expect to see far more math and engineering folks here because of the school’s strength in finance. Instead, you get a sizable group of poets.
Jobs and Pay:
The financial meltdown of 2009 led to a disaster of an MBA recruiting season at Columbia’s Business School. Nearly four of every ten graduating students in the Class of 2009 was without a job at commencement. Columbia was more severely impacted than any other top ten school because it traditionally feeds Wall Street and the big banks which were largely on life support at the time. In fact, for the first time in recent history, three consulting firms–McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain–were at the top of the list of employers hiring Columbia MBAs rather than the financial services firms which tend to dominate. The same three consulting firms hired away the most Wharton grads as well. Wharton did slightly better, though nothing to brag about, because a third of its class didn’t have jobs when they graduated. Grads from both schools fared much better three months after commencement, yet roughly one in four MBAs were still looking even then. Starting pay for Wharton grads was just a little bit more than at Columbia by about $600 a year.
The estimates of median pay 10 years after graduation and over a full career come from a study by PayScale done for BusinessWeek and do not include stock options or equity stakes by entrepreneurs. Columbia grads did better after ten years than Wharton grads, but surprisingly, over an entire career, they trailed Wharton MBAs. The differences, however, are slight. In fact, Columbia MBAs were third in career pay behind only Harvard and Wharton.
Who Hires Who:
Big prestigious companies come to both Wharton and Columbia to hire the best and brightest. The single biggest surprise is the emergence of consulting firms at both schools for the Class of 2009, a consequence of the near total collapse of finance due to the severe economic recession. For the first time in recent memory, consulting firms were the top three hirers at both schools known for finance. Even so, about 48% of Columbia’s Class of 2009 still went into financial services, vs. 43% at Wharton. Interestingly, Morgan Stanley hired only five Columbia MBAs vs. 18 Wharton grads. Microsoft hired eight Whartonites and Amazon snapped up seven from the Class of 2009. Typically, more Wharton grads go into health care, technology, and consumer products and retail companies than those at Columbia. NA does not necessarily mean that a company didn’t hire any graduates from the school, but rather that the number of grads it did hire did not qualify it for breakout treatment by the school. The cutoff number at Wharton was six hires; at Columbia, it was three hires. An asterisk in the Wharton column indicates that the company at least three MBAs or as many as five.